LONDON – With three exquisite touches of control, technique and finishing, Federico Chiesa ended 95 minutes of Italian frustration.
This record-breaking team is off to the quarterfinals of the European Championship with a defense that finally allowed a goal after more than 19 hours but with a national team-record 12th straight victory.
After breezing through the group stage at Euro 2020, Italy was made to fight for its 2-1 victory over Austria on Saturday in a last-16 game that came to life in extra time.
It was Roberto Mancini’s substitutes who made the difference with the goals from Chiesa and Matteo Pessina at Wembley Stadium.
“We needed some fresh energy,” Mancini said, “and the guys who came on were brilliant.”
An unmarked Chiesa brought down Leonardo Spinazzola’s high cross with his head, controlled the bouncing ball with his right boot and then used his other foot to shoot low into the net.
“Usually when the ball arrives like this you try a first time on the volley,” Chiesa said. “But I think the goal came because I was composed, I was relaxed and I was focused.”
The goal rolled the clock back 25 years to when European Championship games were last played in England and his father Enrico Chiesa scored for Italy. Euro ’96, however, ended in the group stage for Italy.
Now it's onto a quarterfinal meeting in Munich on Friday against the winner of Sunday’s match between defending champion Portugal and top-ranked Belgium.
“Ideally we would like to avoid both,” Mancini said, “but it’s not possible.”
After scoring seven goals without reply in the group stage, Italy didn't have it so easy against an Austrian team playing in the knockout stage at a European Championship for the first time.
“After 90 minutes we said that we just had to improve the quality of the final passes,” Spinazzola said, "and finally the goals arrived in extra time.”
Individual skill produced the breakthrough from Chiesa. Italy's second was more about calmness in a goalmouth scramble. Pessina, who came on midway through the second half, sent the ball into the far corner of the net in the 105th minute.
“In this team everybody can score and this is our main strength,” Pessina said. "We are a great group.”
The group spirit was clear in the raw emotion of the goal celebrations as teammates collapsed on Pessina, a late injury replacement in the squad.
“He's not a player I have necessarily unearthed — he has been doing brilliantly for Atalanta,” Mancini said. “He has certainly proved that he is a top player and I think he will have a great future with Italy because I think he is only going to get better."
Italy was also celebrating in extra time after setting a world record for minutes played without conceding a goal in international soccer. The previous record was also Italy’s and was set with goalkeeper Dino Zoff in the team. The Italians went 1,143 minutes between 1972 and 1974 without allowing a goal.
But Italy soon conceded for the first time in 1,168 minutes, from a set piece in the 114th minute when Sasa Kalajdzic headed the ball in from a corner.
"Maybe Italy was a little bit nervous," Austria defender David Alaba said.
The Austrian comeback ended there, however, and Italy held on for its 31st straight unbeaten match — another national team record.
Video review helped, too.
Austria took 63 minutes for its first shot, then found the net two minutes later. Alaba headed the ball across the penalty area and Marko Arnautovic nodded the ball past Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma. But the video review showed Arnautovic's right boot was offside.
“We are disappointed and sad,” Austria coach Franco Foda said. “We need justice in football but today it hit us. It was a close offside and we have to live with it.”
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